Your Guide to Saigon’s Most Popular Traditional Medicine Techniques

By: Arik Jahn

Traditional medicine is recognised by many as a way to cure diseases in Vietnam. Often dismissed as esoteric mumbo-jumbo, these techniques, which were developed long before the era of modern medicine, are starting to catch on worldwide.

In Ho Chi Minh City, there are several reliable institutes that perform traditional medicine, such as the government-owned Traditional Medicine Institute in Phu Nhuan District or the Tam Duc Traditional Medical Clinic in Tan Binh District.

Then there’s also the CMI (Centre Médical International), one of the most renowned Western clinics in downtown Saigon. “Not many people know that the CMI has a traditional medicine department,” Dr. Anh Thu, working at the clinic since 2012, says laughing.

Her family has been working in traditional medicine for over five generations. When asked about the core theory behind it, she summarises: “Our body consists of a giant web called [the] meridian system. It links the parts of the body, supplying them with the qi, the vital energy, and regulates the distribution of blood and body fluids. This way, it maintains the balance between yin and yang and the five elements to protect the body against diseases.”

This is the core theory of traditional medicine.

Ready to try it? Then the next question is how to choose the right practitioner. “Best is, as always, to follow recommendations,” Dr. Anh Thu says. Observe how the doctor communicates with you during your first consultation and, most importantly, as Dr. Le Hai from Hanoi-based AcuVietnam adds, make sure they have an official licence.

Finally, there’s a range of techniques to choose from. We’ve picked the three most common ones.


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What Does It Help Against?

It is most commonly used for pain relief, but can also cure various other conditions such as migraine, insomnia or anxiety disorders, and even help you to stop smoking.

How Does It Work?

Certain points along the body’s meridians are stimulated by inserting fine, sterile needles into the skin in order to clear energy blockages and adjust the flow of qi.

How Long Does the Treatment Take?

A session can take from half an hour to two hours. Dr. Anh Thu recommends two to three sessions per week during one month for average cases, but the frequency and number of treatments differ from person to person.

Does It Hurt?

If performed by a good practitioner it shouldn’t hurt. When the needles are inserted, you might feel a short moment of numbness, but it’ll pass after a few minutes.

Are There Possible Side Effects?

The treatment might leave some bruises and a sore feeling but serious complications like infections or damaged tissue are extremely rare. Most side effects, like nausea or even fainting, are caused simply by a fear of needles.

Why Should I Do It?

Acupuncture is a very safe treatment method—as long as you seek out a capable practitioner. In many cases you’re likely to feel an improvement after the very first session. See for yourself!


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What Does It Help Against?

Cupping is mainly used to deal with muscle pain, inflammation, fever or minor illnesses. Detoxification is another area of application.

How Does It Work?

Heated cups made of glass, bamboo or silicone are applied to the skin. When the air cools down, a vacuum is generated, creating a suction effect that increases the blood flow. The mildly terrifying, so-called ‘wet cupping’ includes making tiny cuts with a scalpel to draw out small quantities of blood.

How Long Does the Treatment Take?

The actual application of the cups takes only 10 to 20 minutes. It can be accompanied with massages. You’d usually have a session every two weeks.

Does It Hurt?

No, you just risk having a tight feeling on your skin during the treatment.

Are There Possible Side Effects?

Bruises, burns or even skin infections are possible side effects. More often, you’ll just have cup-shaped marks on your skin that disappear after some days.

Who Believes in This?

‘Posh Spice’ Victoria Beckham, all-time record holder of Olympic gold medals Michael Phelps and none other than Justin Bieber do!


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What Does It Help Against?

It helps against pretty much anything, really, depending on the herbs used.

How Does It Work?

Herbalist remedies exist in many forms: infusions and syrup, lotions and creams, or powder put in capsules.

How Long Does the Treatment Take?

Normally, the patient takes the medication for one week, then sees the doctor again to adjust the formula according to possible changes in the patient’s condition. From there, the treatment can take from three days to a lifetime.

What About the Taste?

Really not good. Luckily, you mostly get herbalist medicine in capsule form. An old-school infusion is said to work better, though.

Are There Possible Side Effects?

As with everything you swallow, there can be side effects. Skin irritation or sleepiness would be two common ones.

Do I Have to Go to the Doctor for This?

Yes. Herbalist medicine varies strongly in quality, and not infrequently contains drugs or heavy metals. So it’s all the more important to know the ropes—and reliable suppliers.

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Measles Outbreak in HCMC

By: City Pass Guide

Several cases of measles have appeared in Ho Chi Minh City in recent days, in the context of an epidemic in Vietnam.

Measles is a highly contagious viral infection. Transmission is mainly by air.

The virus is transmitted either directly to a patient or sometimes indirectly because of the persistence of the virus in the air or on a surface contaminated by nasopharyngeal secretions.

Clinical signs

After exposure to the virus, the onset of a rash manifests after a delay of 14 days on average (7 to 18 days).

The invasion phase lasts 2 to 4 days and is marked by the appearance of a fever at 38.5°C, respiratory signs (cough, rhinitis, conjunctivitis) accompanied by a general malaise with abnormal physical weakness or lack of energy.

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The rash lasts 5-6 days. The contagious phase begins the day before the appearance of the first respiratory signs and extends until 5 days after the onset of the eruption.

Complicated forms are more common in patients less than 1-year-old and over 20 years old.

The leading cause of death is pneumonia in children and acute encephalitis in adults (about 1 case per 1000).

Prevention and vaccination

In infants and children, the immunization schedule includes a first dose of measles-mumps-rubella vaccine at 12 months of age and a second dose before the age of 2 years.

A vaccine catch-up (total of 2 doses of triple vaccine) is recommended for all persons over 24 months of age and born since 1980.

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More: Schedule of vaccinations and vaccination recommendations according to the opinion of the High Council of Public Health.

Quarantine of the patient is recommended throughout the contagious period, ie up to 5 days after the onset of the eruption.
The vaccine catch-up, as recommended above, performed within 72 hours after contact with a case can prevent the occurrence of the disease in the vaccinated.

What are the recommendations?

Only vaccination prevents the occurrence of measles.

- Check your vaccination record. Immunization with 2 doses of the MMR vaccine is recommended to anyone born since 1980, or in the absence of a personal history of measles.

If there is no vaccination or incomplete vaccination, consult your doctor.

- In case of contagion with a patient presenting with a measles diagnosis, or in case of fever associated with respiratory signs and/or rash, consult your doctor.

For further information, here is the reference page of the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs:

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11 Tips to Stay Healthy While Living in Ho Chi Minh City

By: Brennan Lagman

Life as an expat in Ho Chi Minh City has a unique set of health challenges that can easily be managed with our following tips! 

So you’ve set your eyes on Vietnam as your destination to relocate, or maybe you’ve been living here a while? It’s no surprise: the South East Asian metropolis has quickly become one of the top global destinations for expatriates, providing some of the highest quality of life in the world for expats, thanks to a relatively low cost of living, a booming economy and access to pretty much everything you could want or need. 

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However, as a bustling city in a mostly subtropical developing country, Saigon’s physical health hazards abound. Add to that the stress that comes with being far from home, navigating a completely foreign culture and not having a solid support system of loved ones and friends. Maintaining mental and physical health can be a challenge.

But don't worry! If you follow these 11 tips on how to maintain your health and wellness while living and working in Ho Chi Minh City, you’ll be able to stay on top of your game and get the most out of your new life here. 

1. Listen to the Health Signals your body

To stay healthy, be aware of the signals your body is sending you. The common flu-like side-effects of most diseases can and will eventually occur. Horror stories of foodborne illness, mosquito-borne viruses, parasites and communicable diseases can make some symptoms seem terrifying. More often than not, they are signals of manageable, non-disease related issues like dehydration, sleep deprivation and exposure to higher levels of pollutants, to name a few.

Listen to your body and be sure to seek professional advice whenever concerned. 

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2. Familiarize yourself with the Healthcare Landscape 

Before you arrive, research clinics, hospitals and urgent care centres near your workplace and home. That way, you know where to go in case of an emergency. The Vietnamese Government invests greatly in pharmacies and hospitals, so there are options all around Saigon. 

Pharmacies can be found in most neighborhoods and all you need is a generic name of the medicine you need, or you can just describe your symptoms to your local pharmacist and get most medications for a cheap price. 

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3. Choose Healthy Food Options

Food in Vietnam has different microorganisms, and the food safety standards are low for most places. As you eat your way through the country, use discretion. See how the food is prepared, make sure it is cooked fresh and has not been sitting too long, or that it is re-cooked to piping hot before serving. 

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If you want to maintain a healthy and well-rounded diet, the best option is to cook your own food at home. That way you can control the quality of what goes into your body. 

4. Maintain Physical Health with Activity 

International sporting activities like CrossFit, soccer, weight lifting and yoga are on the rise in Saigon, as locals continue to search for the perfect daily routine for healthy body and mind. Simply visit your local park in the morning or early evening and you'll see people flocking to stretch and move their bodies. Most districts have local and foreign gym options, parks with calisthenics equipment or boutique studios offering other means to keep active. 

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5. Explore some Alternative Medicines

Overseas, traditional Asian practices like cupping therapy or acupuncture can cost a fortune. In Vietnam, these wellness regimes are commonplace and much more accessible. Like anything, you should research the practice and practitioner and seek professional medical advice before you get any type of treatment for any disorder. 

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6. Wear Protective Clothing

The heat in Vietnam can be unbearable. Still, it's important to protect your body! Overexposure to the equatorial sun can cause health issues, so wear light clothing to cover up commonly exposed skin areas. 

Dawn and dusk are high times for disease-carrying mosquitoes, so cover your limbs in long, loose-fitting clothes to avoid getting bit. 

Also, air pollution is a big problem throughout the city, so try to make wearing a filtration face mask part of your daily routine to protect your lungs from gases and dust.

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7. Prioritize your Mental and Emotional Health with Self-Care

It is easy to get lost in the excitement of socializing, the demands of work deadlines and the overall adjustment phase we all go through when relocating to Vietnam. In order to avoid having a mental or emotional breakdown, take time out for yourself! Go to a spa, Netflix and chill, read a book in the park, meditate, anything to help you decompress and reset your frame of mind.

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8. Look after your Relational health and Keep in Touch

Homesickness comes and goes. To cope with it, be sure to reach out to people who make you feel at home. Part of the adjustment process is sharing what you are going through. Just err on the side of caution: keeping in touch with loved ones abroad can make homesickness even worse! 

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9. Make New Friends

Your family and friends back home won't always be able to relate or understand what you are going through, which can feel isolating. However, most foreigners here are going through similar challenges, which is why they are generally easier to talk to than your friends back home. And people start to feel like family very quickly. Both foreigners and locals are warm and easy to approach and most people are willing to help if you ask. 

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10. Explore New Things

Humans love familiarity, and even in a place like Vietnam it's easy to get too comfortable with routine. As you settle in, don't forget to continue to try new foods, see new angles of your city, take a short staycation or vacation to a nearby town or province, keep your experience here dynamic so that you’re constantly stimulated and don't begin to feel stagnant. 

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11. Take up a Hobby

In a place like Saigon, you will be a ‘big fish in a small pond’. In many hobbies that are popular back home such as stand-up comedy, singing or dancing, you may face less competition and pressure to outperform others. Saigon is a great place to get your feet wet, dabble, and try some new things! Be brave and challenge yourself to something outside of your comfort zone. Plus, classes are often way more affordable here. 

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Staying Healthy in Ho Chi Minh City is totally doable!

No matter where you go to live in the world, maintaining a healthy lifestyle takes work! Even though life in Vietnam will present itself with health challenges, if you follow these simple tips, you are sure to take some of the mess out of the stress and have a more balanced Vietnam Expat experience in Ho Chi Minh City.

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Hoan My Sai Gon Hospital: Treatment with Respect

By: City Pass Guide

Hoan My Sai Gon Hospital was started in 1999 as the first private hospital in HCMC, and has since grown to become one of the most significant leaders in privatised healthcare.

Hoan My is a one-stop-shop hospital, due to the fact that they have highly qualified specialists in nearly every field, a vast and modernised range of imported medical equipment, and the staffing power to take care of every individual need of each patient.

VIP Package

Hoan My has just recently launched their premiere VIP medical facility on the 11th and 12th floors of their hospital in Phu Nhuan. Encapsulating the concept of a “Hotel Hospital”, this spotless, luxury healthcare unit adheres to international standards while providing ethical and cutting edge treatment for each patient. From the waiting room to the inpatient and outpatient areas, visitors are able to enjoy the comfort of a high-end hotel atmosphere. The lobby has carpeted floors, relaxing leather sofas and HD televisions to keep you occupied as your loved one receives meticulous, expert treatment. The inpatient and outpatient rooms also contain HDTVs, top of the line furnishings, and an ambiance that leaves you feeling calm. In case of immediate assistance, each room is equipped with an electronic call system for your convenience.

Unlike most hospitals, where you are relocated to different floors and sometimes even other hospitals for different procedures, the VIP wing is all-inclusive. You will not need to be transferred anywhere and any kind of treatment needed can be delivered on the same floor, saving you the hassle and headache of having to move around.

Patients also have the option to set up their appointments online and select the specialist of their choice; scrolling through the online profiles of each doctor gives patients the ability to overview their work experience and credentials. All doctors in the VIP area can speak English and visitors can feel comfort knowing there will not be a communication barrier.

Training and Staff

There are approximately 120 top doctors (many of whom are internationally trained) and 300 nurses currently employed at Hoan My Sai Gon. Doctors must have at least five years of working experience before being considered for employment and all specialists must have a PhD in their field, practical training and great competance in accordance with their degree. Nurses are also required to have a nursing degree or a certificate from nursing school, as well as undergo heavy-handed development courses in international patient Safety Goals.

Medical Technology

Having proper up-to-date medical technology is the key to providing international quality services, and this is one of the biggest advantages of having treatment at Hoan My Sai Gon. All their medical equipment is 100% imported and no more than four years old. Hoan My Sai Gon also has extensive cardiac and bypass equipment as this department undertakes a large number of patients with heart-related issues. An expert biomedical technology team is brought in to routinely check all equipment each month to ensure its proper function.

Patient Care

Quality patient care is the primary mission of Hoan My Sai Gon. For every one patient there are three staff members to assist each person in need. On average, patients will wait five minutes before they are initially seen by a professional. In lieu of avoiding overcrowding, doctors and nurses arrive before opening hours in order to assist people already waiting. They have also furnished their space with an above average volume of beds in order to keep patients comfortable as they await further treatment.

Quality Control

In order to attain the status of a premiere hospital, CEO Dr. Tram Em has implemented strict and comprehensive protocols that all employees must follow. Each week clinical audits are made; if standards are not met retraining will occur. Patient identification is another standardised process that inherently requires double and triple checking of personal health profiles of each visitor to avoid problems with allergies, bad medications or misdiagnosis. As a result of intuitive strategic management, Hoan My Sai Gon is able to provide complete support to every patient that visits their hospital, and the results clearly speak for themselves.

Contact information:



Hotline: +84 28 3995 9860

Phone booking: +84 28 3990 3995

Address: 60-60A Phan Xich Long, Phu Nhuan District

Traditional Medicine: Snake Oil or Miracle?

By: City Pass Guide

Once the preserve of the poor in Vietnam, Traditional Vietnamese Medicine [TVM] has taken on a new popularity amongst the middle and upper classes of Saigon.

People are returning to traditional medicinal roots in droves, keen to experience the combination of Western medicine and the ancient practices of their ancestors.

Witch Doctors or The Future of Medicine?

TVM practitioners may seem like witch doctors to some. The idea of an unqualified mystic talking about energy and using plants to cure disease is frequently dismissed (sometimes correctly) as absurd.

The reality is somewhat more complex. Modern TVM takes elements of Western medicine and incorporates them with the treatments practiced in Vietnam for centuries. This may seem quite contradictory. Practices such as acupuncture and herbalism are often labeled placebo-effect treatments rather than proper medicinal procedures.

However, to dismiss the potential benefits of TVM would be foolish. To understand this, consider aspirin. Present in the leaves of willow trees, aspirin has in one way or another been used for pain relief for over 2,400 years. In 1763, Scientist Edward Stone completed the first successful study on an extract of aspirin as a cure for fever. Credit has been given to Felix Hoffman, a scientist at Bayer for the first chemical synthesis of Aspirin in 1897.

Today aspirin is used to treat a huge variety of ailments, from headaches to heart conditions. All this from a leaf used through the millennia by herbalists who knew that certain plants had beneficial properties.

Modern TVM doctors are trained with rigorous discipline. As Le Hoang Son, Director of the Traditional Medicine Hospital explains (on behalf of his doctors), “To become a TVM doctor in Vietnam, a student needs seven and a half years to six year to study and 18 months to practice in hospital to get the license.”

Southern vs Northern TVM

Photo by Phoebe

It’s important to make the distinction between souther TVM (Thuoc Nam) and northern TVM (Thuoc Bac), which is more akin to TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine).

Southern TVM, unlike northern TVM, is more based on the use of fresh herbs than reductions and tinctures. Primarily focused on herbalism, with a combination of plant-based cures and noninvasive procedures, it is somewhat more benign than its northern cousin. In extremely rare cases silkworms may be used, but plants are by far the most common medicinal source.

There is also a marked difference in the botany of the regions, with the plants of the north more similar to those found in China than the South, and some variance in the types of diseases experienced between regions.

The Godfather of Modern TV

If modern TVM - that is the combination of Western and traditional medicine - can be ascribed to anyone, it is probably Nguyen Van Be (or “Ong Ba Dat Phen”- meaning, roughly, “Man in the second position in the family on the Acid Land”).

“Ong Ba” fought in the American War. During his service he developed a fascination for herbalism as a solution to the lack of medicine in war-torn rural areas. Due to his interest in medicine, the government sent him to the North to study Western medicine. He studied hard, graduated with merit and returned to Ho Chi Minh City to continue his medical studies at the University of Medicine and Pharmacy. It was here that he began his studies in the capabilities of plants to cure snake poison, not a new concept but one which Ong Ba had been sceptical of until this point.

Hidden Risks of TVM's New-found Popularity

Modern TVM’s popularity amongst Vietnam’s middle and upper classes makes sense, it takes the best of both worlds and seems to be making great headway in delivering provable results.

However, this has led to less well-off Vietnamese getting their medical advice and treatment from pharmacies, which in turn has led to a rise in the use of antibiotics for even minor ailments. There are serious negative implications therein, such as an increase in bacterial resistance to antibiotics which, combined with a lack of funding for new antibiotics, could lead to a rise in antibiotic-resistant diseases.

TVM vs Western Medicine

While the empiricism and scientific processes behind Western medicine are central to their effectiveness, it is absurd to imagine that all alternative medicines are ineffective. Traditional remedies, if considered effective for the treatment of any ailment should be put through the rigours of Western empirical study to ascertain their effectiveness. With so many people dying of disease every day we should be doing more to finding cures in unorthodox areas.

Le Hoang Son explains: “Each type of medicine - Western and TVM - has its own advantages. Western medicine is good in acute diseases and surgery, while TVM has strong points in chronic diseases. Besides, [traditional medicinal] herbs were used for a long time and are popular ingredients in daily meals (ginger, garlic, etc.). Moreover, TVM has many non-drug treatments (acupuncture, acupressure, Yoga, and others) that are effective and affordable.”

By combining the disciplines of East and West, it is possible we could be able to cure any number of diseases. It may just require a little more cooperation and a little less cynicism.

Staying Healthy When Dining Out

By: Nat Paolone

With such a variety of enticing food options coercing our palates into gluttony, eating healthy outside your home proves quite challenging.

Looking at the menu, densely packed with highly caloric, over-sized portions (which we have become accustomed to in our modern world) we succumb and gorge. Busy lifestyles and poor choices while eating out often lead to further weight gain. Let’s have a look at how we can better deal with this and make better choices at the restaurant.

Societal Pressure

Socio-economics definitely influence our food choices both in selecting a restaurant/cafe and what we decide to order. We like to “fit in,” and eat what our friends munch on.

We’ve all heard too often from friends and family, “Oh come on, just eat it! You only live once, it won’t kill you…” Seemingly when you choose to eat healthy, you may become the outcast among your friends. This compounds matters as striving for acceptance is human nature.

Why all the talk of sociological factors when we just want healthy eating tips? Because the challenge is largely psychological and habitual. Most of it is really common sense but unfortunately eating substandard food has simply become socially accepted.

Right then, let’s get into making some better nutritional choices.

Photo by Pixabay

Local Food Suggestions

Vietnamese grilled fish and meats are ideal dishes, as well as soups and hot pots. Many Japanese and Korean restaurants around Saigon have solid, healthy choices in contrast to the majority of most Western menus offered throughout the city.

Next time you enjoy your favourite pho or bun bo, ask for less noodles in order to maximise your healthy diet. In regards to MSG, well, you know what it is, and we must accept that it’s nearly unavoidable when eating out in HCMC. Goi cuon (chicken spring roll), goi xoai (mango salad) and ca nuong la chuoi (grilled fish with banana leaf) are a few healthy Vietnamese options.

Photo by Pixabay

Indian food doesn’t have to be heavy. Go for the tandoor chicken breast or lamb as long as you make sure to request it with no butter or cream. Choosing brown rice over naan is also another way to manoeuvre around the fattening dishes lingering at your table. When eating Italian, skip the primi and go straight for secondi.

Sugar and excess carbs are fundamentally problematic. Lower these and increase the veggies and proteins. For all the lovely vegetarians, choose protein rich beans and legumes. This is a challenge in Vietnam as most vegetarian restaurants do not include beans on the menu. Sure tofu is good, but this protein packed veggie has a long history of nutritional controversy.

Portion size is paramount. Share a pizza instead of having a whole one, as so many of us are carb junkies consuming these saccharides voraciously, reducing portions is the goal.

How Unhealthy is Alcohol?

Alcohol! The ultimate socially accepted evil. What? Nothing wrong with a few glasses of wine paired with your meal you say? Well, not exactly. Regarding weight gain, alcohol is more than a double whammy. This potion is broken down into acetate, which your body will use first for energy before anything else you eat or drink. Alcohol is metabolised, fat oxidation stops, weight gain may occur and slowed metabolism may result.

Photo by Stephen Bentsen

An average glass of wine has 150 calories, and beer has about the same. People who drink alcohol with a meal often eat up to 30% more food, and considering the culture of pairing food and drink in HCMC, this may cause a problem for many.

Juices and Sodas

Photo by Lavanya Kumara Krishnan

Fruit juices are commonly thought to be a healthier choice over soda. Studies show that the effects on our bodies are virtually the same. According to a recent publication in the Nutrition journal, fruit juice has a fructose concentration of about 45.5 grams per litre, slightly less than the average of 50 grams per litre for sodas.

"The human body isn't designed to process [fructose] at such high levels. Fructose is processed almost entirely in the liver where it is converted to fat, which increases risk for diabetes, cardiovascular disease and liver disease,” says Michael Goran, Director of Childhood Obesity Center in Southern California.

Essentially sodas and fruit juices should be avoided altogether. Eat fresh fruit instead, which includes fibre, slowing down absorption of sugars and allowing the normal metabolism of fructose. As an alternative, drink lots of local fruit smoothies (like avocado) but without condensed milk or sugar. Try an avocado smoothie for healthy fats.

“The only way to keep your health is to eat what you don’t want, drink what you don’t like, and do what you’d rather not.” - Mark Twain